Sunday, May 22, 2005

Tektonic faultlines-3

I said:
<< For Sandmel to claim that a fixed future would contradict God’s omnipotence and mercy is not a claim which he derives from the teaching of Scripture—to judge by Wilson’s quote. No exegetical argument is offered in support of this claim. >>

Holding said:
<< Not that Hays actually shows that Scripture proves any such thing (so much for his hypocrisy in saying, "no exegetical argument...") >>

1.Since Holding has difficulty following the ball, let’s review the obvious. Wilson is advancing a thesis. That places the burden of proof on Wilson. Wilson’s thesis is that you find such a thing as block-logic in Scripture—“Let us turn, then, to some of the many examples of block logic found throughout Scripture” (150). Wilson quotes Sandmel in support of his thesis—with special reference to the hardening of Pharaoh. See p151. Sandmel, however, does not offer an exegetical argument for block-logic in Exod 4, 7-8.

Instead, Sandmel talks about “the Jewish view” of providence for which he gives all of one sentence from the Mishnah. And he doesn’t offer any exegetical argument for the “Jewish” view of providence, either.

So the burden of proof is on Wilson, not on me. You’d think that as a “Christian” apologist, if that is what Holding is--although you’d never know that from his fondness for profanity—he would know about the burden of proof.

2.Even if the burden of proof were on me, I’ve already referred Mr. Holding to Warfield’s essay on predestination. But Holding prefers sound-bite theology to serious research.

And while we’re on the subject, there’s quite a lot of exegetical material posted on Triablogue in defense of Calvinism, both by others and myself.

<< Not that Hays actually shows that Scripture proves any such thing (so much for his hypocrisy in saying, "no exegetical argument..."). Sandmel's quote actually says, not what Hays claims here in his summary, but what he quotes and misses, that what contradicts God's mercy and omnipotence is that a "totally unalterable future lay ahead" -- not a "fixed future". >>

Now he tries to contrive a distinction without a difference between a “fixed future” and a “totally unalterable future,” as if what’s totally unalterable is weaker than what is fixed. This is yet another example of where Holding is so eager to find fault that he lapses into nonsense.

<< Hays himself, we assume, does not deny God's omnipotence and does not think that God is powerless to change the future, even if it is fixed in His sovereignty. >>

Holding commits a category mistake. For this would not be a question of omnipotence, but elementary logical consistency. By definition, what is “fixed” or “totally unalterable” cannot be altered, otherwise it would not be unalterable, now would it?

God is free to foreordained a different future, had he so desired, but one cannot “fore-ordain” an alternative future after the fact. If Holding is this muddle-headed, then it’s no wonder he has problems with Calvinism.

The logical alternative would be to say that God can change the future because he does not fix it in his sovereignty, but leaves many details to be penciled in by the libertarian freedom of his creatures, which he is able to erase and write over, if he so wishes.

Up-to-a-point, that would at least be a logically coherent alternative, although it is exegetically indefensive and quickly runs into epistemic and ontological dead-ends or cul-de-sacs.

<< It does not require a "finite, fickle, and fallible God who is riddled by doubts and second thoughts about his plan for the world" but one in which counterfactuals could be proposed and considered, even if not enacted. Once again we wonder if Hays denies either God's omnipotence or omniscience. >>

This form of words amounts to nothing at all. The question is not whether God enjoys counterfactual knowledge. The question, rather, is what there is to ground his counterfactual knowledge. If Holding ever bestirred himself to read the philosophical objections to Molinism raised by such theologically diverse writers as Robert Adams, Paul Helm, William Hasker, and Alfred Freddoso, he could hopefully see how utterly inadequate this statement is at even sketching an alternative model of providence, much less a coherent model.

To state just one problem: if God is choosing which future to fix in response to what the creature would do, rather than the creature responding to what God would do, then the creature’s hypothetical choice is causally prior to the Creator’s hypothetical choice. Not only does this make the creature the creator of God’s choices, but it degenerates to circular causality inasmuch as a possible creature is nothing more than what God could possibly make of it.

It is Holding who flirts with heresy by denying the preconditions of divine omniscience.

I said:
<< Likewise, Sandmel’s claim that predestination and prayer are nonsensical is not something given in Scripture itself. There is nowhere in Scripture in which his claim is taught, either expressly or implicitly. >>

Holding said:
<< Let the falsehood speak for itself, since Sandmel makes no such statement either. What he actually says is, "Unless God's proposed destiny for man is subject to alteration, prayer to God to institute such alternation [sic] is nonsensical." >>

1.This is another one of Holding’s favorite lies. Like everyone else—Holding included—I sometimes summarize or paraphrase the opposing position. This would only be a falsehood had I claimed to give a verbatim quote, and then substituted my own form of words. But there is no inherent falsehood in offering a synonym or summary if you never said that you were reproducing your opponent word-for-word. Holding himself does the same thing all the time, but, of course, he’s a past master of the double standard.

2.I said that Sandmel treats the relation between predestination and providence as nonsensical. They can’t both be true. Holding then quotes Sandmel verbatim: “"Unless God's proposed destiny for man is subject to alteration, prayer to God to institute such alternation [sic] is nonsensical."

The two statements are conceptually equivalent. If Holding weren’t so blinded by personal antipathy, he could see that for himself; but he’s so desperate to find something to attack that when what I actually say doesn’t supply him with sufficient materials, he jury-rigs a nonexistent problem on which to hang his limp bromide.

<< As for finding it in Scripture, we suggest Hays look for a story about Hezekiah being given more time to live after prayer, and for another where Moses pled for relief from the destruction of he Jewish people. >>

1.As is his wont, Holding is inventing brand-new arguments where such arguments are lacking in Wilson and his authorities. Let Sandmel come up with his own arguments.

2.Holding is now resorting to the hermeneutics of open theism and Mormonism to justify his denial of predestination and providence. Does Holding believe that God really did change his mind? Entertain second-thoughts? If so, then Holding’s denial of divine omniscience is actual heresy, and not implicit, merely.

3. I’ve offered my own brief critique of open theist hermeneutics in my essay on “Open season on open theism.” I’ve also written a much longer essay on the subject for a festschrift in honor of the late Rousas John Rushdoony. When that’s published, I will, Lord willing, post it on Triablogue as well.

4.In the meantime, Paul Helm has written a number of fine articles on the subject.

<< Note carefully that Sandmel says proposed destiny -- not final destiny. Hays errs once again when it comes to simple reading. >>

Naturally he says “proposed” destiny since Sandmel denies predestination. That is perfectly consonant with my reading. In Sandmel’s androcentric creed, God proposes, but man disposes—whereas in Biblical Calvinism, man proposes, but God disposes (Prov 19:21). Holding is too blinkered by rage to see the clear consequences of Sandmel’s stated position

After quoting one of Wilson’s examples of block-logic: “The prophets teach that God is both wrathful and merciful (Isa 45:7; Hab 3:2),” I said:

<< This is only a paradox if you insist, in simple-minded fashion, that God is both wrathful and merciful at the same time with respect to the same object. But the Bible itself is guilty of no such simplistic reasoning. >>

To which Holding said:
<< We'll stop right there, because Hays has done one of his usual shell games. Wilson does not call this a "paradox" -- he calls it an example of block logic, which is an umbrella term for what is expressed, variably, in many forms, including paradox, for one, but also including antimony, contradiction, and polarity. This particular example would not be paradox, but polarity. >>

As is his penchant, Holding is putting words in the mouth of Wilson. This is what Wilson really said:

<< The Hebrews often made use of block logic…This way of thinking created a propensity for paradox, antinomy, or apparent contradiction, as one block stood in tension—and often illogical relation—to the other. Hence, polarity of thought or dialectic often characterized block logic. Ibid. 150). >>

“Paradox.” “Antinomy.” “Apparent contradiction.” “Tension.” “Illogical relation.” “Polarity of thought.” “Dialectic.” Wilson piles these terms on as interchangeable synonyms—ways of making the same point by expressing the same idea in different words.

Holding is the one to tries to find a semantic distinction between “paradox” and “polarity,” and then employ that to gloss Wilson’s statement about the prophets. But Wilson himself draws no such distinction, much less does he apply it to the case at hand.

Once more, Holding is doing damage control. Like a diner with an expired meter, he rushes out of the restaurant when he sees the meter maid coming down the street and feeds a few more quarters into the machine, then waxes indignant because I didn’t respond to objections that were never raised in the original.

And I add that Holding’s after-the-fact patch-up job fares no better, for I’ve taking down his objections one by one as well.

<< The remaining examples -- two through ten -- Hays mishandles and flubs the same way. He thinks Wilson identifies them as "illogical" but Wilson says no such thing. >>

As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what Wilson says. “Illogical relation” is one of the definitions which Wilson gives for block logic. I’m apply his own definition to his own examples. Nothing could be fairer. Holding’s last-ditch effort to improve on the original is a back-door admission that the original is indefensible as it stands.

<< Thus Hays cannot, as before, even represent his opponents correctly. >>

Holding is the one in a made scramble to retrofit the original—like a rickety bridge that isn’t up to code. The fact that Holding constantly feels the need to reinforce the original shows how shaky it is.

After quoting Wilson: ““Hell is described as both ‘blackest darkness’ and the ‘fiery lake’ (Jude 13; Rev 19:20),” I said:

<< This is even more inept than #3. It commits the same fallacy as #3, but adds yet another blunder by juxtaposing one writer’s figurative usage with another writer’s. But if there were such a thing as block-logic, it could not be attested by taking two different authors who may be ignorant of each other’s usage. At most, it could only be attested by showing that the same author reasons in self-contained units of thought. >>

To which Holding said:
<< WHAT! Earlier in his diatribe, Hays had informed us in his wisdom, "It is misleading and quite inaccurate to set up a contrast between the divine and human perspectives in Scripture." But in this very complaint, he not only commits the same error as in the rest, as noted, but also speaks of "two different authors" -- as though denying that God is the author of both Jude and Revelation! So which is it, Mr. Hays? Is there a contrast between human and divine perspective in the Scipture (as you say) or not (as you say also)? Maybe Hays is trying to give us an example of "paradox" to figure out! More likely he is simply too insensate and too intent upon insulting Wilson to recognize his own patent contradictions. (But taking the "human" aspect: Jude and Revelation were written in the same Judeo-Christian thoughtworld, and the two descriptions, darkness and fire, are found from the mouth of one person, namely Jesus. Perhaps Hays forgot his New Testament.) >>

Regarding the first part, this was my full statement:

<< It is misleading and quite inaccurate to set up a contrast between the divine and human perspectives in Scripture. This is like setting up a contrast between a novelist and his storybook characters. Now the novel will, indeed, present the viewpoint of the characters. But it will do so from editorial viewpoint of the novelist himself. Scripture gives us the divine perspective, not only on God, but also on man. This is what God thinks of man. >>

1.Notice the bait-and-switch scam as Holding slithers from an editorial contrast between the divine perspective and the human perspectives of Scripture--which I deny--to a figurative contrast between one writer’s choice of metaphor and another’s--which I allow--as though these were convertible propositions--they’re not.

Since God is the primary author of Scripture, his perspective is the normative perspective. His editorial viewpoint controls the secondary viewpoint of the human authors. One can only set those two viewpoints in opposition—as Holding and Wilson do—by denying the inspiration of Scripture—by denying that divine intent controls human intent in the process of inscripturation.

2.On the other hand, there is, as I explained once before, no problem with mixed metaphors in Scripture since, as figures of speech, they were never meant to be taken literally, and hence, to be literally harmonious.

Is Holding really incapable of absorbing such elementary distinctions? All it requires is a capacity to hold three ideas in one’s head at one time, instead of one idea only. We’re dealing with the axial relation between divine and human, human and human, as well as literal and figurative.

3.Scripture itself distinguishes between different human authors (e.g. Rom 9:27; 10:5,19-20; 11:9). And inspiration doesn’t necessary make one Bible writer privy to the inner reasoning process of another Bible writer. Inspiration is not telepathy. It doesn’t make John a mind-reader of Jude. God knows what both are thinking, and God controls what both are thinking. But one writer’s usage does not control another writer’s usage.

4.I favor the organic theory of inspiration, championed by Warfield, which is the mainstream theory in conservative evangelical theology, e.g., The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

I’d add that the organic theory assumes a doctrine of absolute providence. There is God’s providential ordering of the events to be written up, as well as his providential ordering of a Bible writer’s nature and nurture.

5.The fact that both metaphors are used by Christ is irrelevant in commenting on Wilson’s theory of block logic, since that is no part of Wilson’s own argument.

6.Even if we waive (5), what I said under (2) covers this extraneous case as well.

7. Of course, I’m just a “mouth-foaming bibliolater” in Holding’s book. So I make allowance for the fact that he has a lower view of Scripture than I.

All said, Holding would do well to quit while he’s behind—lest he fall ever further behind. And that’s that.

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